Timothy Gager's Story

Are you there, reader?  It's me, Laura.  It's been a while since I had a guest blogger and/or featured a recovery story.  Well, look no further.  Timothy Gager does both.  Take it away, sir!  

NOVEMBER 6, 2010

I’m coming out of a blackout at The People’s Republik in Cambridge, Massachusetts and I’m in mid-sentence. I know where I am because I remember coming in with some friends earlier. I can never leave early enough. I confused where this sentence is going to or even what I am talking about. I don’t know where my friends I came with are? Did they leave me here? Why? Stupid question because I know even if I wasn’t remembering specifics of this night. Bad behavior leads to lost friendships.

How do I get home? Oh, that’s right, I remember I drove here. How did they get home? I’m sure they did. They’re able to as most people are when they go out. Shit, where is my car?  I walk out of the bar. Damn I don’t know the answer to that car question. I’m on Massachusetts Avenue and there are various public parking lots nearby. I’ll go to each one. My car is a blue Dodge Caliber. Easy enough. I go to each lot and it takes over an hour, mostly because I’m running from one lot to another. I find the car of my friends. They are still in Central Square somewhere. I feel panicked until I find my own car, then I feel like finding my vehicle is some sort of miracle. I start the car, poke my face with the ends of my fingers for sore spots. None. No one has hit me tonight. I turn the key.

I’ve driven drunk too many times. At least four times per week. I’ve driven drunk with my children in the car. I’ve drank beer out of a cooler with my children in the car. I’ve driven blacked out and greyed out. I’m eventually going to kill myself doing this. I get home I think I do want to kill myself but I want to live. I just don’t want the pain. I go through the mental checklist: gunshot, pills, cutting my wrists, jumping off a building. It is how I got to sleep every night, meditating on this list, except tonight I don’t sleep. I run the list in my head over and over again without passing out. I’m tired of not wanting to live. At 6 AM, I move to the sofa in fetal position under a comforter.

The position of a fetus strikes me as being pretty claustrophobic. I’m feeling that fear. My temples pound, my vision is pixelated when I try to focus on anything. I do not want to move. My friends hate me. Bad behavior leads to lost friendships and lost relationships. I know this. My last relationship was with a woman with six years sobriety. I told her that I was a social drinker. When we started sleeping together it was the three of us: Me, her and a bottle of Johnny Walker. She broke up with me. I remember she went to meetings. She used to leave my house for a few hours to attend and then come back later.

I tried attending meetings once years ago. Maybe, I didn’t but here’s the story: I called a hotline for help and they didn’t help me on the spot. I went to a bar and got home and my roommate told me that there was a call from them and I told him that it was a wrong number. That about summed up previous ability to surrender.

So at 7 AM, I suddenly remembered that this woman had gone to meetings on Saturday in Needham, the next town. I dragged myself to my computer, did a search and I found it. I envisioned her being there and somehow nursing me back to health—a sober, in recovery, Florence Nightingale.  It was in nine hours till the meeting, if only I could hold on.


Drinking was great and I was good at it. I was attracted to it as early as age seven when I tried to drink vanilla extract. In high school, it helped me to invent myself as something I was not because I was an awkward, uncomfortable, unconfident, picked on and extremely “uncool” person. So I became this person that partied a lot and stood out as someone that didn’t do things in a conventional way. I played in a band, which fueled my drinking, drug taking and womanizing fire. When people guessed I may have a drinking or drug problem and they had the courage to tell me, I was more likely to celebrate that fact than to try to fix it. At least, I was getting noticed. My parents even bought me A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill, and I was disappointed that it wasn’t pro-drinking. That’s how I identified with alcohol as a solution.

That was then...

That was then...

I wrote my first collection of stories, Twenty-Six Pack, in 1999, which I felt was celebrating those certain aspects of my life, but when I look back on it, it reads like a dark drunk-a-log. It turned out to be more of a message about the bad spaces you end up in when using, then anything else.

Then things started going worse. Normal people were settling down and I was still out there. When you hit early to mid-thirties you should no longer act and get wasted like you were ten years younger. It’s the difference between college binge alcoholism which I could get away with and the adult progressive disease which was taking over and taking full power over me for another fifteen years. I had no control over it and the moments which I did, I chose it.


Month one was punishment. I punished myself for the sins of my past. I attended a five-seven meetings a week. I missed alcohol and ran to a meeting instead of a bar. I hated every minute of it and I was out of my head crazy. I hadn’t killed anyone. I hadn’t been fired. I hadn’t gone to jail or rehab. I was divorced but drinking of course, wasn’t the cause but it presented an excuse to drink more. All I knew was that in the winter of 2010, I didn’t want to drink anymore, so I accepted my punishment and began attending AA regularly. When I received my one month chip, I whispered to the presenter, “I don’t think I can do this,” to which she said, “I think you can.”

The second month was bad but better than the first. My head started to clear and the purpose of me staying sober became stronger. I was still in mourning for my “loss” but the days were just better enough for me to understand why I was doing what I was doing. At the three month mark, it was like a switch had been turned on and I was felt lighter. It was only ninety days, many of them bad, but one at a time. I could do that. I was happy about my decision and by month four, I was all in.

Along with my new purpose being strong, memories and emotions started to flood back. They told me that I was indeed like others in the rooms. I had been fired from jobs. My music career basically ended when two very popular bands had given up on me because of how I drank and used. I had spent a few nights in jail because of fighting while being under the influence. I had a car scrapped up my car a few times against guardrails and curbs. Somehow I compartmentalized that those incidents hadn’t count. I now realized how I justified a lack of responsibility and accountability during that those times.

I continued to comfortable and happy with what I was doing to stay sober. I set up chairs for a 5 PM meeting nearly every Tuesday and Thursday. The meeting couldn’t exist without me. I became known and acquainted with people with long time sobriety. I also ran with a pack of four people who were all new and were willing to support each other. All of us successfully received our medallions after one year of sobriety.


It is better. I accept myself. I am there for others. I am there for myself. Meetings are necessary but not desperately so as there are enough tools I’ve picked up that I can live life on life’s terms. I keep it simple, but incidentally, as simplicity now happens as a norm. My life IS simple and I realize that events happen regardless, whether good or bad and I can handle them without turning to outside substances. I have fought and continue to fight a disease. I’ve written a book of poetry about recovery. I finished a novel. My children are no longer scared of me. I’m in a relationship with another sober person. I use the steps as a solution and I will continue to work at these. People say they are inspired by me when they decide to start their own journeys. I had my last drink November 6, 2010, my name is Tim and I am sober today.

This is now...

This is now...

Timothy Gager is the author of eleven books of short fiction and poetry. His latest, The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan, (Big Table Publishing) is his first novel. He hosts the successful Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts for over thirteen years and is the co-founder of Somerville News Writers Festival. His work appears in over 300 journals, of which ten have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has been read on National Public Radio. 

Twitter: @timothygager

Mishka Shubaly

Where do I even begin with this guy?  I'm not sure how I heard of Mishka (dude--after all this time, I don't even know how the hell to pronounce your last name.  Shoe-buh-lee?)  But I did, and I found myself reading one of his Amazon Kindle singles on the plane trip home from Southern Cali (I miss you, California) in late 2013. 

All I could think was *Is this guy's writing playing the staring game with my soul?  'Cuz he gets me.*  

We became Facebook"friends" and Twitter"followers."  He's a damn busy guy--I mean, he's a SOBER modern-day renaissance man--writer, runner, musician, soon-to-be professor--so I'm honored and grateful and all that jazz (seriously!) that he's supporting my endeavors with the collective.  So, without further adieu, I give you, Sir Mishka's post he wrote for his website almost a year ago (reprinted with his permission, obvi).  Scroll down to the bottom (NOT UNTIL YOU FINISH READING THE BRILLIANCE BELOW) for an update on his life.


Five Years Sober

29 May 2014

'Twas the night before Mishka quit drinking...

'Twas the night before Mishka quit drinking...

I’m celebrating five years sober today.

The above picture was taken just before I quit drinking. I was at the end of a UK tour with Freshkills. I remember that I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open when this picture was taken, but I can’t recall much else.

In 2009, I lived in a run-down apartment right next to the BQE.

I drove a crappy little maroon Dodge Neon that was falling apart. I had bags under my eyes and a paunch. I had nothing resembling a real job or a steady income. My primary sources of income were working door at Piano’s one night a week (11pm to 4am from Saturday night to Sunday morning, not a particularly fun shift) and working off Craig’s List. I played in three bands: Freshkills, RIBS and Rumanian Buck.

I was comfortable in the knowledge that I had failed as a writer.

And now? I live in the same run-down apartment right next to the BQE.

I drive a crappy little maroon minivan that is falling apart. I have bags under my eyes and a paunch. I have nothing resembling a real job or a steady income.

And everything else is radically transformed. I haven’t had a job since 2011 because I haven’t had to. I own a little house in California.

It’s not just that I started writing again, I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and became a bestselling author.  I still don’t write every day because I have shitty work habits, but I ought to write every day because people are actually waiting for works I’ve promised them.

My body looks almost exactly the same as it did when I quit drinking, but I know it’s different inside.

I can run. I didn’t just run a marathon, I ran a bunch of marathons, I ran marathons as training runs, I ran 2 marathons back-to-back, I ran a bunch of ultramarathons, the longest of which was 62 miles. It’s impossible to deny it: I’ve come a long way. And I have a long way to go.

I loved all three of the bands I played in in 2009, all three broke up, and all three broke up because of me.

Yeah, I’m sober and I have a pretty decent handle on the whole “not drinking” thing, but I’m still angry and depressed and resentful and irritable and insecure and self-loathing and anti-social and neurotic and detail-obsessed and high-strung.

Some of these were issues when I was a drunk and I’ve made improvement on them. Some of these flaws only got worse when I stopped drinking. And some are new. What’s the solution? I know if I had a couple of beers the next time I go out to a friend’s show, I’d have a much better time. I’d relax, I’d be able to connect with people better, I’d be funnier and more animated and less morose. And everything I’ve worked so hard to achieve would unravel, slowly at first, and then very quickly.

My only option is to stay the course. I need to try every day: try to relax, try to enjoy, try to be more patient, try to let go.

The smile says it all.

The smile says it all.

I say I’m “celebrating” five years sobriety but that strikes me as an odd choice of word. I’ve chosen a rocky path and I know I have more difficulties ahead: what’s to celebrate? And how do you “celebrate” sobriety—a tall glass of seltzer and a marathon of Law and Order: SVU?

This is how I understand my illness: there are two people inside of me.

One guy values his friends and family, still has a dream or two, is interested in the world and wants to do stuff: to engage, to participate, to express, to create. The other guy wants destroy the first guy, he wants a drink before even getting out of bed because fuck it and fuck you and fuck the world.

I’ve done a decent job of neutralizing the other guy these last five years.

It’s not always an epic battle of good and evil, usually it’s just a battle to find a matching pair of socks and get out of the house… but yeah, some days it is an epic battle of good and evil.

So I’ll celebrate this progress and celebrate the hard road ahead of me in a fitting way: by tackling the toughest ultra-marathon I’ve ever encountered.

The Peak Ultra in Pittsfield, Vermont is 53 miles of torture. I had trails of crusted blood down the back of my legs from the biting flies when I finished, and I started shaking uncontrollably not long after.

It took me nearly 14 hours to complete the first time I ran it 3 years ago and I swore I would never do it again. I’m going to do it again.

I know I’ll never totally defeat this other guy because, well, he is me. But I can show him who is in charge. I can grind him down, I can knock him back on his heels, I can wear him down, and I can make him suffer. Wish me luck.


Now closing in on six years of sobriety, not much has changed.

 I'm a little happier, a little more comfortable, and also a little more stressed as I'm finishing my first full-length memoir.  I welcome it all, the good and the bad, as I don't have any fantasy of living a perfect life or being a perfect person.  AA still holds no appeal to me.


My sobriety is my creation, and I own my sobriety the same way alcohol used to own me.


--Mishka Shubaly